If the Pixar movie Wall-E ever becomes a reality, we will at least be able to bring farming with us to Mars. Hopefully.
Scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have published new research in their quest to test the feasibility of growing agriculture on the red planet. They found that radishes, peas, tomatoes and rye grown in ersatz-Martian soil were completely safe to eat.
Crucially, however, the soil was enriched with old-fashioned soil from Earth — a move that not only probably played a key role in the success of the plants, but also one that is completely feasible — explorers could bring small quantities of Earth soil with them to help grow crops.
The research was supported by Mars One, a Dutch group that wants to put a human colony on Mars by 2026. Mars One helped the researchers get more publicity, but the scientists are adamant that Mars One did not give any funding for the experiments. Mars One, notably, is an outsider in the world of space exploration: Both NASA and MIT engineers criticize their goal, saying that 2026 is an unrealistic goal.
It’s important to note that this research isn’t foolproof. Since the research hasn’t been formally published, it has not been peer-reviewed; in other words, other scientists have not been able to point out flaws in the methodology and findings yet. Plus, naturally, we haven’t actually tried this on Martian soil.
Still, the results of the partly-crowdfunded research are promising. 10 different crops were grown, and the scientists were surprised that the heavy metals in the soil did not contaminate the food. With more funding, they hope to test six more crops. The research dovetails with NASA’s ambitions to grow red potatoes on the red planet.